When Geoff Horn became a financial advisor 20 years ago, he thought he’d be running the business. He never dreamed the business would be running him. Horn’s practice generated close to $500,000 a year in revenue, but he’d been at that level for five years and didn’t know how to get beyond it.

He said he wanted to gross $1 million in three years when we met. I asked if he had a business plan, and he said he had nothing on paper. I told him we could use his revenue goal as a basis for formulating a business plan, but we had to explore something more fundamental first.

I asked why he felt so accountable to his clients.

“That’s why I’m in business. I’m here to serve my clients; I can’t let them down.”

It is a common answer, but, quite often, it can limit growth. He wondered how.

“If you feel accountable to your clients, you’re always going to feel obligated to be available all the time. It becomes difficult to extricate yourself from client involvement and to work at a higher level, to examine your business – to spend time on your business plan, to set objectives, develop strategies. In fact, most advisors who say they are accountable to their clients feel that the business is running them; they’re not running it.”

Greg agreed that’s how he felt.

“Other advisors tell me they feel accountable to their spouse.”

“Yeah, I feel that, too,” Horn added.

“And that’s a dangerous game to play. You need the freedom to do what’s right for the business without feeling the weight of your wife’s expectations. It’s OK to have your spouse involved in the business if she has a structured role and clear purpose, but when she’s on the outside, she doesn’t understand the complexities and the issues you’re dealing with. And that’s what creates tension.”

Horn nodded.

“Many other advisors tell me they feel accountable to their employees.”

“Yes, I do feel that.”

“You’re carrying a lot on your shoulders,” I said.

“What’s the solution?” Horn asked.

“The first step is understanding the difference between responsibility and accountability. Responsibility is a personal feeling of obligation. You might feel responsible for providing for your wife and family, for giving great service to your clients or for creating a great and secure place to work for your employees, but that doesn’t mean you’re accountable to them. Accountability is based on a clear objective or set of objectives that another party holds you responsible for.”

“But there is no one to hold me accountable to anything. There’s just myself. What do I do?”

“You need a coach who will work with you to improve your skills and knowledge and help you clarify what motivates you. And you need a sound business plan. Those are the two elements of accountability. Your business plan sets the objectives. It establishes what you are committing to, and your coach is the party that holds you accountable. This allows you to focus on the business and not feel overwhelmed by the weight of your personal responsibilities.”

Excited about this new approach to his business, Horn worked with me to develop and implement his business plan. Over the next year, his business grew by 28 percent. He is well on his way to a million dollars in revenue.